Guam restaurant owners, employees feel the weight of Covid-19

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HAGÅTÑA (The Guam Daily Post) — When the first local Covid-19 cases were announced, Mary Ann Atalig adjusted her store hours, opening at 8 a.m. — an hour later than usual.

Applebee’s is serving customers with takeout orders only as Guam businesses and residents try to their part to reduce the spread of Covid-19.  Photos by David Castro/The Guam Daily News

But even then, she said, customers wouldn’t start arriving until later, around 10 a.m.

On a regular day, customers would knock on the doors of Mariana’s Sports Stop in Tamuning as early as 6:45 a.m. to pick up breakfast for their children.

She doesn’t prepare food for breakfast anymore, because customers don’t visit in the morning anymore.

“They’re scared,” she said. “It’s really bad.”

Atalig opened her doors at 10 a.m. recently, but only to accommodate to-go orders.

The store also usually sells barbecue from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. However, following the announcement that businesses would have to close earlier in an attempt to reduce the spread of the coronavirus — although restaurants are exempt — Atalig said she wasn’t certain she would stay open for business in the evening.

“Last night, I had like maybe four (customers),” she said Thursday. The night before that, “only one.”

Normally she said, the shop would serve 50 to 100 sticks of barbecue, but the virus’ appearance on Guam has drastically reduced sales to around two, maybe four.

With loans and other debts to pay, she’s kept her store open in the hopes of making ends meet.

It’s especially difficult for a small business that opened just eight months ago, she said.

“I hope the government could at least help us small businesses,” she said. “We don’t have any insurance or funds for this emergency.”

Since this interview, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero has ordered all dine-in restaurant service shut down. Takeout and drive-thru orders continue at some businesses.

As of March 19, Mariana’s Sports Stop is closed for business until further notice, according to its Facebook page.

‘This is how we pay the bills’

“We’re all in this together,” said Von Cabral, restaurant manager at Josie’s Special Batchoy & Fast Food.

Even though business has slowed, Cabral said, he doesn’t mind it and encourages everyone to stay home, and practice good hygiene and social distancing.

“We’re still open,” he said. “This is how we make a living, this is how we pay the bills.”

As of Thursday, the restaurant remained open for customers who decided to have lunch there, but closed at 6:30 p.m. and limited the number of customers dining in to 20 people at a time.

He said the restaurant was considering whether it should do takeout only, should the situation worsen.

‘No choice’

Lunchtime is usually the busiest hour at Lieng’s Restaurant, said owner Phuoc Nguyen. Lately, however, things have been slow.

On Thursday afternoon, the restaurant was filled with empty tables, with not a single customer to be found.

Nguyen kept his restaurant open because he wanted to help his employees by making sure they were paid.

“I do what I can do, to help myself and help the employees who work here,” Nguyen said.

But when it’s slow, he said, there’s no money for rent or other payments.

Nguyen said he would soon have to decide whether to temporarily close the restaurant.

“We have no choice,” he said.

‘It’s been slow’

A restaurant owner in Barrigada said many of the manamko’ who used to dine in now prefer to take their food to go.

Worried customers have also canceled large reservations, just to be safe.

“We worry, too, about the safety of our staff and our customers,” she said.

Before the mandatory shutdown of dine-in service at all restaurants, staff were cleaning and sanitizing the tables once a customer left and keeping the capacity at minimum — which wasn’t a problem.

“We have a lot of takeout orders.... It’s been slow, lunch and dinner,” she said.

Due to a lack of customers, she said, she had cut hours for staff and told them to stay home if they’re feeling sick.

‘Hard times’

On a regular day, one employee from Chode’s Mart in Hagåtña said, customers would come by every morning and buy up all the sandwiches and sushi.

With the temporary closing of some government offices —where most of the store’s customers work, she said — sandwiches and other food items remain unsold.

The family-owned store also operates a catering service, which was forced to cancel three reservations for this month, along with orders from GovGuam agencies.

“Even though we’re going through some hard times, we’re still open,” she said.

She said the store will maintain regular business hours and try to remain positive about the situation.

‘Hoping for the best’

Daria Mantanona, a cook at Linda’s Coffee Shop, said, “We’re hoping for the best.”

While some restaurants have closed and others are giving customers options to order takeout, she said, the Hagåtña restaurant did not close its dining room until ordered by the governor.

Apart from the Covid-19 threat, Mantanona’s hours have been cut in light of the recent minimum wage increase.

But it’s to be expected, she said.

“There’s not much we can do.”

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